21st May, 2017 Read time 7 minutes

Tips to Avoid Health Risks from Air Conditioning Overuse

While the UK isn’t often associated with warm weather, the summer heat can at times be unbearable. It’s especially polarising as for us in the UK, tropical summer days and lengthy periods of scorching, dry heat seem like a pipe dream every year, and when they do (occasionally) come around, we often seek refuge in the refreshing breeze of air conditioning systems. 

Why Be Mindful of Air Conditioning Use?

An air conditioning unit can provide some much-needed relief from the blazing heat, there’s no denying it. Whether wall-mounted, ducted, or freestanding, these units can be incredibly beneficial in helping maintain a comfortable indoor temperature when the heat is particularly strong. 

However, many are unaware of the health risks and possible side effects of using air conditioning frequently and intensely. It’s understandable that they are needed to maintain a stable air quality level in many spaces, but believe it or not, health risks exist in almost any type of facility, whether it’s a standalone office, manufacturing facility, or laboratory, and recognising the air conditioning risks is crucial. 


Unbeknownst to many, particularly in commercial spaces like offices, factories, warehouses, and other facilities with high foot traffic, there is always a risk of over-relying on air conditioning systems throughout the warmer months, which can exacerbate several health conditions. 

This short guide explores the possible risks that you could encounter when using air conditioning too much, and how to safely maintain a comfortable indoor environment without affecting your health and well-being.

Understanding Air Conditioning Risks

Prolonged exposure to air conditioning can lead to several health issues and make many pre-existing ones worse, including (but not limited to):

  1. Dehydration

    Air conditioning systems remove excess moisture from the air and recirculate cleaner and ‘conditioned’ air, with the help of a cooling mechanism to make the air feel much colder than the ambient room temperature. However, doing so risks the air feeling much drier than usual. Spending extended periods in these dry conditions can cause dehydration, fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms resulting from dry air inhalation.
  2. Respiratory Problems

    Poorly maintained or excessively grimy air conditioning units can circulate dust and other allergens that could have been dormant for some time. This is likely to cause and worsen respiratory issues like asthma, sore throats, allergies, and sinus infections.
  3. Skin and Eye Irritation

    Air conditioning systems can pump out dryer air which, if left to run for hours on end, can cause dry or itchy skin, and eye irritation. Removing the natural humidity and moisture in the air means that your skin doesn’t absorb as much of it, if at all, which is worth bearing in mind if you have sensitive skin or eye issues.
  4. Spread of Infectious Diseases

    Recirculating air in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation can make the transmission of airborne illnesses, such as colds, flu, viruses, and other respiratory infections, much easier and more likely. This poses a greater risk to occupants’ health and well-being. 

Ensuring Safe Air Conditioning Use

It’s no secret that workers crave a comfortable environment when confined to an office while the sun is blazing and the temperatures are high. They should be able to enjoy air conditioning without it posing a risk to their health. After 2023 was reported by the Met Office as being the second warmest year on record, it’s fair to say we should expect more warm summers ahead.

Luckily, commercial air conditioning risks are fairly easy to address with proactive planning and forward thinking. To mitigate these risks and enjoy the benefits of air conditioning when summer rolls around, consider the following tips:

Proper Maintenance and Cleaning 

You can prevent the buildup of dust, mould, allergens, and other contaminants by regularly maintaining, cleaning, and repairing your air conditioning system.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when replacing filters and, for commercial units, consider investing in PPM (planned preventative maintenance) service contracts to keep your unit in prime working condition all year round.

Adequate Ventilation 

Office air conditioning systems work most effectively when paired with sufficient ventilation systems. Many modern models come with built-in ventilation systems meaning that any conditioned air is fed directly through to the room and waste air is dispensed outdoors.

However, if you have a non-vented system such as a portable or condenser air conditioning unit, ensure that you are providing sufficient airflow in your office space.

Open windows, use fans, and let stagnant, recirculated air have an easy route out of the room to avoid contaminated air being fed directly back into the room.

Humidity Control 

Sometimes a humidifier or dehumidifier can work well alongside a standalone air conditioning unit. Most modern air conditioning systems do have built-in humidity controls, but if you do not have one consider adding a unit to your office to maintain optimal humidity levels inside. This will help prevent excessive dryness and minimise irritation while keeping the air quality and temperature comfortable.

Temperature Moderation 

On a particularly hot day, it can be tempting to set the air conditioning thermostat too low. However, be mindful that a significant temperature difference between outdoor and indoor environments can shock the body. Similarly, you’ll find that returning to a normal or even warmer climate after spending long hours in an enclosed, chilled office space may give you headaches. The sudden fluctuations in climate may not be suitable if you set the temperature range too low.

Scheduled Breaks 

It’s important to take regular breaks and set foot outside of a fully air-conditioned space from time to time. By exposing your body to naturally ventilated or humid areas regularly, your body can acclimatise more easily, and it also means you’re mitigating prolonged exposure to recirculated dry air.

HSE Guidance on Workplace Temperature and Ventilation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides specific guidance on workplace ventilation and temperature control. Employers must make sure that there is sufficient ventilation in enclosed spaces, under regulation 6 of the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations.

The same regulations require employers to provide a reasonable indoor temperature that depends on the work activity and the environmental conditions. For construction site workers often tasked with working outdoors, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations require reasonable temperatures and protection from adverse weather. 

While there is no maximum temperature for workplaces, the minimum workplace temperature as defined by the Approved Code of Practice is 16°C (or 13°C if the work is rigorous and physical).

Air Conditioning and the Law

The HSE does not determine whether a specific air conditioning model is suitable or not. However, air conditioning legal requirements – the Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations – require routine inspections of all commercial air conditioning systems as a way to determine their energy efficiency, not necessarily whether the system will be suitable for your building. 

While this can provide peace of mind that a system works as intended, there is very little in the way of direct laws around heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). However, for commercial properties, planning permission may be required by the local planning authority to install a new, approved air conditioning system. Consulting with specialist installers is recommended to identify the right system that will offer the desired performance. 

Every workplace is different, but workers should talk to their employer if the workplace temperature and ventilation levels are uncomfortable. By following HSE guidelines and advice and ensuring the commercial air conditioning system is compliant, employers can create a safe and productive work environment while minimising risks.

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